J. F. Penn is one of indie publishing’s mega-stars.
Dear Me Five Years Ago,
I just read about a revolutionary new parenting method created by David Vienna called CTFD, or Calm The F*ck Down. Vienna proposes that kids are resilient and will grow up to be fine if parents would stop worrying about every little thing so much. CTFD isn’t for the children. It’s the parents who need to calm the f*ck down. I think his method has great lessons for you, so listen up.
As an unpublished author, you are concerned about everything (yes, I still remember like it was yesterday). You have so many concerns, I wonder now how you get any writing done. They go on and on: How will you get published? What if you’re writing isn’t good enough? Why doesn’t an agent want to represent you? Will you ever be able to do this for a living? Good God, you’re a mess.
I’m writing from the future to tell you…calm the f*ck down.
Even after you get Irene Goodman as an agent, you’re going to wonder why no publisher wants you (BTW, she advocated pretty much this same method, but you won’t really take it to heart at the time). When you get published by a big six publisher, you’re going to fret over the marketing for your first book even though most of it is out of your control. While you’re doing all that, you’re going stagger under the pressure of writing a great follow-up, convinced that you’ve run out of ideas.
Calm the f*ck down.
You’re going to give me an ulcer if you keep worrying about every little thing. You need to pace yourself. You’re so consumed with how that one book is going to be received that you’re not realizing you have a whole career ahead of you. I (we? you?) have six books published now, and I can assure you that there will be plenty of ups and downs in the coming years.
You’ve written three books without getting published? CTFD. Steve Berry wrote eight in twelve years before he got published. If you’re serious about making writing you’re job, don’t get hung up on those books. If they don’t sell, keep writing. You never know what’s going to be your breakout. When you were working at Microsoft, did you tell your boss: “My project is done—well-funded retirement, please!”? No, you went on to the next project.
You plan to be writing for the next forty years. That’s at least forty books ahead of you. Hell, Dean Koontz has written a hundred novels, and it took him forty before he wrote one you’ve heard of. You’re complaining that you’re career hasn’t taken off after three?
Buddy, calm the f*ck down.
I’m telling you, there’s no secret sauce. There’s hard work and luck. Sure, you’d love to have that one stratospheric hit that reaps millions of dollars and readers around the world. But here’s the thing: you have no idea which book that will be. It may be the next book or it may be ten books down the road.
Stop focusing on the book you just finished. It’s done. Yes, do your best to get the word out about it, but then move on and write another one. As James Scott Bell said in his blog yesterday, if you’re passionate about the story, odds are some other people will be, too. Maybe even a lot of people.
And if the next book doesn’t resonate with people, calm the f*ck down. You’ve got forty more chances to make it happen.
Five Years Later You
Brother Gilstrap mentioned yesterday that it was his job as an author of thrillers to give his readers a wild ride. ‘Tis true, of course, but it got me to thinking about what happens when we climb aboard a horse which we expect to be a stallion but which seems, at least out of the gate, to be a foal. It has happened to me, and I daresay at some point it happens to everyone who reads a fair number of books: the first couple of pages grab you, but twenty or so pages into the story you find that the grip is becoming looser by the paragraph.
My question to you is, how deeply do you go into a book before you check out? What is your line of demarcation? Do you give the author a chance to change your mind? Do you immediately hang it up? Or do you hang in until the bitter end? For me, if I’m not immediately enjoying a book by a familiar or favorite author, I go one-third of the way into it before I even think about calling it quits. If I’m reading a book by an author unfamiliar to me, it’s a bit more complicated. If the narrative (or my mind) seems to be wandering before I’m one hundred pages in, I may consign it to my “later” pile in favor of something more immediately appealing. The same is true if I have no idea what has been happening during the thirty pages or so I just read, or can’t recall, in the words of the famous limerick, who has been doing what and to who. At that point I tend to put the book down wet.
But what about you? How far do you go? A few pages? A few chapters? One-third? One-half? Or do you engage in the literary equivalent of speed dating: the story has to impress you in five minutes, or you’re done?
What I’m reading: The Emperor’s Tomb by Steve Berry. Worth reading for the mention of abiotic oil alone. And for so much more. Berry is a master of rendering the complicated and complex interesting and exciting. And yes, it’s a wild ride.
Our guest today is New York Times bestselling author, Steve Berry. Steve’s books have been sold in 49 countries and 39 languages with over 8 million copies in print. His novels include The Amber Room, The Romanov Prophecy, The Third Secret, The Templar Legacy, The Alexandria Link, The Venetian Betrayal, and his latest, The Charlemagne Pursuit. His next thriller, The Paris Vendetta, will be available December 2009. In addition to writing novels, Steve serves on the International Thriller Writers board of directors as co-president.
By Steve Berry
Over the past six years I’ve been asked countless times by the press, fans, and friends about The Da Vinci Code. It’s a natural question since my stories are constantly compared to it. Dan Brown even provided a wonderful blurb for my first novel, The Amber Room, (calling it “sexy, illuminating, and confident . . . my kind of thriller”). I still like reading that comment from time to time.
Dan achieved what every writer dreams about. He wrote a story that utterly captured the imagination. One of those tales that rang with a sense of originality. Remember all the press. The hype. The talk. The buzz. It was amazing. People flocked into stores and bought The Da Vinci Code by the millions. The result? A guy who barely existed after his first three novels, was catapulted into a worldwide household name. Eventually, non-fiction books, more fiction, television shows, games, memorabilia, a movie, you name it, and that book spawned it.
But that will not be Dan’s legacy.
What he did is bigger than all that.
Dan will be remembered for bringing a genre back to life.
Here’s reality: When the Cold War ended in 1990, the traditional, tried-and-true-good-old-fashioned-spy-thriller died. By 1995 the genre was virtually gone. By 2002 editors simply weren’t buying, and people weren’t reading, spy thrillers. Sure, if you were Cussler, Follett, Ludlum, and Forsyth you were okay. Those long standing audiences were fully developed and totally assured. But if you were anyone else, especially a rookie trying to break in, times were tough. During the 1990s my agent submitted 5 separate thrillers to New York houses. They were rejected a total of 85 times.
Then, in March 2003, the world changed.
That was when The Da Vinci Code was released.
For the next 36 months The Da Vinci Code was either #1, 2, or 3 on The New York Times bestseller list, mostly in the #1 slot. On every other American bestseller list the story was the same, as was the case from around the world. Few books can claim such a feat. A genre that what was once called ‘spy thriller,’ re-emerged as the international suspense thriller, a blend of history, secrets, conspiracy, action, and adventure.
Just exactly what I, and many others, happen to be writing.
Many of us received our chance to find an audience thanks to what Dan Brown and Doubleday did in releasing The Da Vinci Code. Thrillers were hot once again. Hundreds of new books appeared. The resurrection led, in no small measure, in 2004, to the creation of International Thriller Writers, an organization now of over 1000 working thriller writers.
Happy days were here again.
Every few years a book comes along that literally changes things. Stephen King’s Carrie. David Morrell’s First Blood. Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent. John Grisham’s The Firm. Those books fundamentally altered their genres. They also opened up opportunities that, before them, did not exist for others.
The Da Vinci Code is such a book too.
I tell the story that every time I pass a copy I stop and bow. Perhaps that’s an over-dramatization but, in my mind, I always utter a silent thanks. Maybe I would have made it to print one day. Maybe not. All I know is that I did make it in 2003 thanks to Dan Brown, Doubleday, and The DaVinci Code.
In September, The Lost Symbol will be released. This time Dan and Doubleday will not just resurrect a genre, they could well revive an industry. Book sales have been decreasing over the past two years. Print runs are down. Re-orders are slow. Backstock is disappearing. Already, bookstores and booksellers are salivating at the prospects this fall offers. People will, without question, return to the stores. Books will be sold, and not just Dan’s. The ripple affect will be huge. Everyone’s bottom line will be positively affected. This is precisely what the publishing industry needs. The Lost Symbol will certainly debut at #1 and remain there for many months, if not years. Already it is the single largest first printing in Random House history (5,000,000), but my guess is that number will increase before the fall.
Welcome back, Dan.
For the past six years, many a prince has fought over your throne. Several have laid claim, but none emerged to take your place.
Now they all must move aside.
The king is back.
May his reign be long and prosperous.
So what do you think? What effect will Dan Brown’s new thriller have on the publishing industry? Will it surpass The Da Vinci Code?
Coming Sunday, June 21, Paul Kemprecos tells us what it’s like to collaborate with Clive Cussler. And future Sunday guest bloggers include Robert Liparulo, Linda Fairstein, Julie Kramer, Grant Blackwood, and more.